I like reading. I grew up in a house full of books, and history repeats itself with our kids- if Felix is ever quiet, I usually don’t worry about him doing something he shouldn’t. He’s usually on the playroom floor, surrounded by piles of Babar’s books.
So it’s kind of a mystery to me why reading for that business such a struggle! This probably had something to do with the fact that it didn’t feel like *actually* work, as there was nothing concrete to indicate the time spent with my nose in a book, at least not immediately after. But that doesn’t qualify as either recreation activity, because if I read about work, I think about work, which means I don’t rest or spend time with my family.
See my problem? It’s gray, no man’s land.
The reason I’m telling you all this is to illustrate: BECAUSE I struggle to make time to read, I’m really picky about which books I choose. They have to be highly recommended by someone I trust, and it has to solve a specific issue or problem.
So if you’re like me with too little time to read and high expectations, hit this one first Edition Of The Top 5, I’m sharing five of the best business books I’ve ever read!
Deep Work, by Cal Newport
If you and I have ever spent *time* together, chances are, you’ve heard me recommend this one. I’m actually a bit pushy- I have bought countless copies of this book to send to friends in the past. And the reason is because it is the single most impactful business book I have ever read, and has made the biggest difference in my level of productivity + ability to push my thinking & creativity to the next level.
Deep Work centered on the concept of being able to focus on cognitively demanding tasks in a highly distracted world, helping you master difficult tasks and produce high-value material in less time than the rest of the population requires. Deep Work also discusses how deep it allows you to push your brain to the limits of your capabilities, reaching previously inaccessible levels because you don’t know HOW to push yourself into the zone of what Shonda Rhimes calls “hum.”
This book taught me how to access the zone Purposely, how to work like a pro instead of the head-in-the-clouds artist approach I play. You know the zone I’m talking about- when your brain is firing on all cylinders and you can’t type or write fast enough, ideas flow so fast. And it’s not a woo woo practice – it just boils down to the disciplined pursuit of depth, and in this book, Cal Newport teaches you how to do it.
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey
I think I read this one in high school, and I’m almost sure I didn’t finish it. But Habit 3, “put things first” has stuck with me for years. The matrix he detailed in Habit 3 helped me get very clear about what’s important, vs. what’s simple urge. In our fast-paced world of ever-changing algorithms, email alerts on your iPhone, and time-sensitive trends on social media, it’s SO EASY to accidentally prioritize your time on social media. urge, at the expense important. I don’t want to be someone who just gets hung up on whatever’s in front of me, forgetting to do it. big a project I’ve dreamed of tackling (but which is constantly being moved to the back burner in favor of a fire that needs to be put out).
I want to build things that outlast the trending Reel, and be able to recognize the difference between something simple on time vs. important is part of the job.
Creativity, Inc., by Ed Catmull
If you are a Disney lover and a business owner, this is the book for you. Written by the President of Pixar Animation, this is a *interesting* under the hood look at how one of the world’s most creative companies is. Using stories from the creation/idea process of some of my favorite films as vehicles for management lessons, this is entertaining AND instructive. Best of both worlds.
My biggest takeaway from Creativity. Inc. is to *embrace* the failure that comes with innovating! I used to be *afraid* of making the wrong move, so I overanalyzed things to death, and by the time I was ready to start, the idea had gone stale. This book taught me not only to overcome the fear of failure, but that failure is a failure important materials to achieve the final result.
Rest, by Alex Pang
If you’re the type of person who views taking a break as a consequence or a necessary evil to do a good job, trust me. Come on, order this one. Like yesterday.
Rest was a game changer for this former workaholic. I talked about this in season 2, episode 1 of The Artisan CEO podcast when we discussed the importance of office hours, but I used to think of rest as a… tax I owed on a job well done. I LOVE what I do, and overworking it is easy.
But what I didn’t realize is that stepping away from work and shifting my focus to non-work activities is actually a important ingredient to do a good job because “Network Default Mode” brain, ie a series of interconnected parts of your brain that activate as soon as a person stops concentrating on an external task, and switches from outward-focused to inward-focused cognition.
And here comes the DMN kicker hardly less active when in “rest mode” rather than when you are actively troubleshooting. And it’s coming at problems from a different angle than your active awareness, which is WHY you might come up with some of your best ideas in the shower, while driving, after a good night’s rest. Your brain NEEDS you to stop actively thinking about the problem so the DMN can hack it!
Traction, by Gino Wickman
This is Business Planning 101, people. If you have trouble running a business like a CEO, Traction is made for you.
This book may sound like it was written for large, multi-employee corporations, but don’t let that dissuade you- it’s been a big business help for both of us! It’s a bit of a dry read, which isn’t surprising considering it’s a book about business organization. But it’s worth pushing- Matt and I go over what the book calls the EOS model, the Entrepreneurial Operating System, which sets parameters for setting goals in 5, 3, and 1 year increments, then breaks them down into quarterly cubes, which has helped us create major progress on a very important project that I thought I would be too intimidated to even begin with. I detail our annual planning process in this blog post, if you want to see it in action!
So there you have it! If you have a must-read business book that I haven’t found yet, drop it in the comments — I’d love to know what to add to my “next up” list!
For a full discussion of my Top 5: Business Books, check out Season 2, Episode 5 of The Artisan CEO Podcast!
This blog post contains affiliate links which do not charge the user anything, and from which we earn a small commission, should you choose to purchase. We wouldn’t recommend anything we don’t personally use, so know that this is stuff we love!